By law, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration is authorized to perform workplace inspections and investigations to ensure that companies are keeping their workers safe from various hazards. During these investigations, OSHA investigators determine whether or not the employers are in compliance with the agency's regulations or endangering their workforce.
These inspections are so important because they enforce the 1970 act, outlining the right that "every working man and woman must be provided with a safe and healthful workplace." While OSHA officials are designed to conduct inspections in most industries, certain situations may warrant their immediate attention. There are six priorities of an OSHA inspection that will lead the agency to your doorstep to verify whether or not you're complying with regulations.
After an OSHA investigation, the agency may present a company with various violations it must correct. Then, OSHA may initiate a follow-up visit, to confirm if the facility has addressed these hazards. If not, the consequences can be extremely severe.
Despite OSHA's commitment to keep workers safe on the job, many employers repeatedly fail to address potential hazards in their facilities. Even after an OSHA investigation, there are still companies that don't spend the money, time or effort to correct their violations. This is a costly mistake.
Earlier this year, OSHA followed up at a Connecticut mattress recycling company to verify that it had corrected its violations from a previous 2015 inspection. Unfortunately, the agency discovered new, reoccurring and uncorrected hazards, where the facility now faces $74,520 in proposed penalties. Two of the uncorrected violations include failing to create and implement a written hazard communication (HAZCOM) training program and provide respirator training for its workers.
"Employers have a responsibility to maintain safe and healthful working conditions for their employees and to promptly and effectively correct hazards so they don't recur," Warren Simpson, OSHA's area director in Hartford, said. "They should be aware that OSHA can and does follow up to verify corrective action."
Results from another OSHA follow-up inspection at a New York manufacturing plant revealed that the facility failed to correct its fall hazard violation issued in a 2015 investigation. The company also allowed reoccurring electric shock hazards. This manufacturer now faces $87,520 in proposed fines.
"The penalties for this inspection reflect OSHA's commitment to hold employers responsible for failing to comply with safety standards, and to protect employee safety and health," Michael Scime, OSHA's area director in Buffalo, explained.
The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) hands out fines for violations of its rules every day to companies that have failed to pass a site inspection. These financial penalties can be substantial, especially if you run a small business that is unable to absorb the cost without laying off employees or shrinking your operations. But employers should know that they can appeal these violations if they feel the penalty was excessive or disagree with the judgment of the OSHA representative inspector.
Within 15 days of a citation, an employer can file a written appeal to the local OSHA office, which will be forwarded to the Occupational Safety and Health Review Commission (OSHRC), an independent body that mediates disputes between OSHA and the companies it fines.
Something to keep in mind, however, is that a business can appeal to the local OSHA Area Director, who is allowed to enter into settlements with those companies who have been issued citations for safety violations. Doing so can help speed up the appeals process and avoid a lengthy and costly legal battle that may not end in the appealing party's favor, should they choose to go to the OSHRC.
Employers can also appeal an abatement ruling by the inspector. If the OSHA area office requires your business to correct a safety hazard, and for various reasons you are unable to do so in good faith, it may be possible to reach an agreement with OSHA with terms that are more favorable to your position.
But generally, it is a good idea to avoid the appeals process for OSHA violations by not receiving them at all. This is made easier with the use of mobile safety inspection software such as Vector EHS Management, which provides valuable tools and resources to help you make your workplace safe for employees.